Home > Wolf By Wolf (Wolf By Wolf #1)(3)

Wolf By Wolf (Wolf By Wolf #1)(3)
Ryan Graudin

“Eggs…” The first soldier frowned and nodded at her arm. “What’s that?”

Yael followed his gaze to the cuff of her left sleeve. Her gauze wrapping had been too hasty. Its netted white tail peeked out from under the leather.

“A bandage,” she told him.

He leaned in. Closer, curious. His breath was stale with smoke. “Let’s have a look.”

Flash, thud, verdammt, went Yael’s heart.

Yael could manipulate her appearance the way other people might change clothes. These skinshifts could modify many things: her height, weight, coloring, the length of her hair, the sound of her voice. But some things could not be altered: gender, wounds, tattoo ink.

These things stayed.

The wolves were her constant, the single thing about her that was solid and sure. Months ago, when Yael had returned to the resistance headquarters with her first, fresh wolf, Henryka had several peevish words to offer on the matter (the foremost among them being “dead giveaway”). The Polish woman even went so far as to point out that the religious laws of Yael’s people forbade the practice.

But what was done was done. Ink had been under Yael’s skin for more than a decade. By adding the wolves she’d simply made it her own. These new markings were far, far better than the National Socialists’ numbers. Their presence alone was not enough to condemn Yael, but they would raise questions if the patrol saw them. Enough suspicions to get her detained.

The only thing that would raise more questions would be for Yael to refuse the soldier’s request. Slowly, slowly she lifted her sleeve. The gauze went all the way up her arm. Flecked in rust spots and frayed at the edges.

The soldier squinted at it. “What happened?”

Yael’s heart was louder now (FLASH, THUD, VERDAMMT. FLASH, THUD, VERDAMMT), pumping hard with the knowledge that only a few threads stood between her and disaster. All the soldier had to do was reach out and tug. See the ink and the raw and the blood.

What then?

There was always a way out. Vlad had taught her that, along with so many other things. These two men and their two rifles were no match for the skills she’d learned, even in this seventeen-year-old girl’s body. She could knock them out cold, disappear in twenty seconds flat.

Yael could, but she wouldn’t. An incident so close to the resistance’s headquarters, on the eve of her first mission, was far too risky. It would draw the eyes and the wrath of the Gestapo to the neighborhood. Expose the resistance. Ruin everything.

There was always a way out, but tonight (tonight of all nights) it had to be clean.

“It’s a dog bite,” Yael answered. “A stray attacked me a few days ago.”

The soldier assessed the bandage for another moment. His stance slacked from aggressive to conversational.

“Was it bad?” he asked.

Was it bad? Yael would take a thousand and one of Mina’s dog bites in place of what had really happened. Trains and barbed-wire fences. Death and pain and death.

“I survived,” she said with a smile.

“Stray bitches make good target practice. Almost as much as commies and Jews.” The soldier laughed and slapped the butt of his Mauser. “Next one I see I’ll shoot in your honor.”

Yael kept her lips drawn up in Mina’s meek, demure fashion. The mask of a good little Reichling. It was only in the unseen places she raged. Her toes curled hard inside her boots. Her fingers slid back to her jacket pocket, where her trusted Walther P38 handgun nestled.

The second soldier shut the book, so all Yael could see was the Reich stamp on the front. The eagle’s wings were rigid: a double salute. The wreath and twisted cross hung effortlessly from its talons. All as black as that monstrous smoke. The same blackness that grew inside Yael if she let the memories billow back.

“Everything seems to be in order, Fräulein Jager.” He held Mina’s book out to her.

The lining of Yael’s throat tasted sooty. Her toes were cracking—pop, pop, pop—tiny, quiet gunshots inside her boots.

There was a time and a place for remembering. There was a target waiting for her rage, her revenge. This evening, this street, these men were not it.

Her touch slipped off the gun. Yael reached out and grabbed the papers instead.

“Thank you,” she said as she tucked the pages of another girl’s life deep into her jacket. “I must go. My mother will be worried.”

The second soldier nodded. “Of course, Fräulein Jager. Sorry to delay you.”

She started walking, her fist shoved into one of the jacket’s normal pockets, clenching the talismans she kept there: a blunted thumbtack, a pea-sized wooden doll with its face worried off. One by one her toes uncurled. Bit by bit the blackness retreated, back to its uneasy sleep.

“Watch out for the strays!” the first soldier called after her.

Yael held up a hand to acknowledge him but did not turn. She was done with soldiers and strays.

She had much worse things to face.

CHAPTER 3

NOW

MARCH 9, 1956

GERMANIA, THIRD REICH

Yael held her breath when she entered Henryka’s office—expecting a barrage of mother-hen clucking and pecks of guilt (Where were you? I was so worried! I thought you’d been discovered/killed/[insert disaster here]!). But the basement door swung open to a Henryka-less room.

Perhaps she had not been missed after all.

Yael let her breath leak out and stepped into the office. It was not the fanciest of spaces, its smallness made even more cramped by the shelves upon shelves, the military-grade desk, and the card table petaled by mismatched chairs. Paper was everywhere. Forests’ worth, covering the walls, sticking wayward out of drawers, stacked in files all across Henryka’s desk. Documents of old operations, reams of intelligence on the National Socialist government’s top officials, and rescued books. (Yael had read her way through Henryka’s library at least six times, learning about the Biology of Desert Wildlife and the History of Western Civilization and Advanced Calculus and everything else the battered encyclopedia sets had to offer.)

But one piece of paper in particular always drew Yael’s eye: the operations map that took up the far wall. The whole of Europe was stained in red. A crimson tide rolled over the Ural Mountains, bleeding into Asia. Scarlet spilled through the Mediterranean Sea and dripped down the crown of Africa.

Red: the color of battle wounds and the Third Reich. Bitter, bright death.

Whenever Yael studied this map, she couldn’t help but be amazed at the scale of Hitler’s victory. According to the stories, when the Führer first announced his vision of an occupied Africa and Europe to his generals, some of them had laughed. “Impossible,” they’d said. “It can’t be done.”

But the word impossible held no sway over a man like Hitler. He sent his armies marching across Europe anyway; his ruthless SS troops ignored all “civilized” rules of war, mowing down soldiers and civilians alike.

Some countries, such as Italy and Japan, joined Hitler’s annexing rampage, hungry for territories of their own. Other countries, too scarred by the war that ravaged the world two decades before, refused to fight. It didn’t take much persuading for them to sign a nonaggression pact with the Axis. “Peace at all costs” was the isolationist catchphrase in the American newspapers. The Soviet Union put its pen to the pact as well, for all was not right in its lands. Localized uprisings against Stalin’s ethnic purges and dissension within the government were chipping away at the great Communist war machine. It was far from battle-ready.

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